“Her Story” is the only indie web series to be nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series category, and it just so happens to be about transgender women. Not only that, “Her Story” stars two transgender actresses, and its co-creator is transgender. Unfortunately, that is a rarity in Hollywood.
“I know enough about this industry to know we were a long shot,” said an ecstatic Jen Richards by phone on Friday, the day the nominations went live. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet.”
Richards wrote and produced “Her Story,” a romantic dramedy about three women living in Los Angeles. Richards also stars in the series as Violet, a trans woman who must confront her attraction to women when she meets a cute reporter named Allie, played by co-creator Laura Zak. Violet is stuck in an abusive situation with a man, and worries that her attraction to women makes her less trans.
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“That feels extra special, because it’s clear that the other four shows benefit from having that visibility and studio money. We’re kind of the outlier,” said Richards.
With this Emmy nomination, it’s clear that “Her Story” has reached beyond LGBTQ audiences. A particularly exciting endorsement came from Kerry Washington, who tweeted her support to actress Angelica Ross (“Angelica! I am a fan of @HerStoryShow and a fan of YOURS! Congrats!”). But Zak and Richards have not forgotten who butters their bread. By putting trans women front and center of production and casting, “Her Story” touched a nerve in the queer community and was able to build buzz organically before production even started. (The series raised $37, 875 on Indiegogo in 2015.)
— Her Story (@HerStoryShow) July 14, 2016
While the successful Amazon series “Transparent” has told trans stories with compassion and humor, creator Jill Soloway did receive her share of backlash for casting Jeffrey Tambor to play the central trans female role. “Her Story” creator Jen Richards owes much to Soloway; the director read Richards’ nonfiction writing and brought her to L.A. for a screenwriting intensive when Soloway was looking to hire a trans writer for Season 2. (The job went to the musician Our Lady J). “Jill has always been a champion for my work,” said Richards. “She made me believe this was something I could do.”
A nod of encouragement from someone like Soloway goes a long way to instilling confidence. Before Soloway tapped Richards for the screenwriting crash course, she was living in Chicago, working a full-time job and acting at night. “When I started to transition, I thought I would never act again,” said Richards.
“There were no roles for trans women and I didn’t feel like I had a right to play women roles.” But it was through transitioning that she felt the need to tell stories that reflected her community more urgently. And in the age of “Transparent,” Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner, her timing couldn’t be better. With her crisp storylines, penchant for romance and undeniable charm, Richards is perfectly poised to take Hollywood by storm.
Richards is well aware of the “moment” trans people are having in the media, though she thinks that is beginning to translate into a more sustained interest in authentic trans stories. It is noteworthy that major figures like Jenner, Cox, Janet Mock and the fictional Maura Pfefferman are all trans women. Where are the trans men?
“I think it’s more intriguing to the imagination and repelling to many people,” said Richards. “That a man can become a woman, that’s more titillating. Trans women are more visible, but they’re visible as objects of consumption.”
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Ross, who plays power-lawyer Paige, noted that the series represents partners of trans people as well. At a college screening, she recalled: “We took a picture with this one guy, and he said, ‘thank you for telling my story. I’m one of those guys who are attracted to trans women. I felt included in this.’” In light of the horrific violence trans women face every day (22 were murdered in 2015), often from partners, that is incredibly powerful.
Soloway made a good bet on Richards, but she also paved the way to this nomination with her continued support of writers and talent from many marginalized communities. She hires trans people above and below the line, and produces feminist content on her website and YouTube channel, Wifey.tv. “Hollywood is designed to be insular, it’s a union town,” Richards said. “[Soloway] and her team have fought a lot behind the scenes to get trans people in the door.”
Both Richards and Zak would be thrilled if their Emmy nomination opened doors in Hollywood for other underrepresented voices, whether they are trans, people of color, poor folks or women. “It’s really a win for everyone when an authentic story that’s from us and by us gets recognition,” said Zak. “One of my dreams for the future would be to create a Judd Apatow–style group of queer and trans creators.”
Richards feels similarly: “I hope it’s inspiring to people who feel like they don’t have a place in Hollywood. I hope they can see this small, very genuine project, and it inspires them to take their place at the table as well.”
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